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Work Experience? Just what the Doctor ordered!

20 January 2016

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As a keen Sixth-Form student studying for my A-levels, my first taste of work experience was a daunting prospect. I already knew that I wanted to study Medicine but in order to tick boxes in the med-school interviews, a hospital placement is a good idea. I organised myself a one week stint in my local hospital and reported to my assigned consultant at 9am sharp on the Monday morning.

Two years on and I am older and wiser. I now know what my 17 year old self didn’t: consultants do not like to be interrupted, especially by students! I introduced myself to the consultant and explained that I had been assigned to him by the Education Department within the hospital. He didn't know anything about the placement and I was bumped along to the nearest junior doctor instead.

Not a great start. At this point, I had already decided to do a runner at lunch, sack in this whole Medicine malarkey and do something more inviting. Possibly Architecture or maybe Physics – I suspected Brian Cox would be more welcoming!

I persevered through a morning which consisted mainly of shadowing my newly assigned mentor doing paperwork and looking up antibiotics on Wikipedia. Lunchtime came but I couldn’t escape as the junior doctor guided me to the canteen and bought me coffee. I remember being surprised that despite being busy and visibly overtired, he still took the time to sit down and chat with me. In retrospect, this was an important lesson. Hospitals are harsh and scary sometimes, especially to those with little experience of them (like me). But despite this, there is a genuine element of support and team work within Medicine irrespective of whether you are a respected doctor or just a sixth form student. Even consultants, despite their perhaps icy demeanour at first, are very supportive. However, you have to earn their respect first – perhaps by pretending you read their thesis or knowing all the cranial nerves!

During the week, I was lucky enough to experience Paediatrics, Urology, Cardiology and best of all, Theatre (not the Shakespeare type). I was scheduled to see a leg amputation but it was deemed inappropriate – apparently the last student to see one fainted. Unsurprisingly, 99% of everything said and done went over my head – I didn’t know a sentence could be made up entirely of acronyms. I was mistaken for a medical student a few times and was consequently grilled for information that I had no way of knowing (and probably still do not know). If this experience taught me anything, it is to admit when I do not know the answer. Guessing and getting it wrong can have pretty dire consequences in Medicine so it was better to shrug my shoulders and say something along the lines of “I would have to look that one up”.

Whilst on this placement, I must have seen a hundred patients. On the morning ward round or during a 10 minute outpatient’s appointment, I got a glimpse into every one of their lives: A 3 month old that had landed on his head; a young woman with severe alcoholic liver disease; an elderly man diagnosed with prostate cancer; a teenage girl with TB and many more. For the first time, I was seeing patients as real people with lives and families and not case studies or numbers on a chart. I found every patient interesting and I remember being so keen to go home and read more about their respective conditions and how to treat them.

Like many university courses, Medicine at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) now places a significant emphasis upon work placements. I spend an ever increasing amount of time meeting patients and shadowing doctors. For me, this is the best part of the course and it is the most effective way to learn Medicine. I will, however, always remember my first hospital placement as a sixth-former and what it taught me about my forthcoming career.

If you want to know more about applying for Medicine at QMUL, take a look at the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry website.

  • Blog provided by Will Stanley, Medicine student at Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London



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